Mathematical formula predicts clear favorite for the FIFA World Cup

Jul 09, 2010
A team's strategy in one graph. By Javier López Peña and Hugo Touchette School of Mathematical Sciences. Queen Mary, University of London

A sophisticated new analysis of team tactics predicts a Spanish win in Sunday's FIFA World Cup final and also shows why England were beaten by Germany.

Mathematicians and football supporters Dr Javier López Peña and Dr Hugo Touchette from Queen Mary, University of London have collected ball passing data from all of the FIFA games and analysed it to reveal the nations' different styles of play.

Using the mathematical technique called Graph Theory, they have revealed the gaping holes in England's tactics against Germany game and made predictions about the Netherlands-Spain final that could rival the psychic octopus.

For each national side, Drs López Peña and Touchette have drawn up a 'network' of passes between players throughout the tournament and analysed how these networks compare between teams. Dr Touchette explains: "Each player in the network is given a score called centrality which measures how vital they are to the network. The higher the centrality score, the bigger the impact if that player wasn't there. This method is most commonly used to make more robust, but it can also be used to plan football strategy."

Graph Theory is used to analyse different types of network, most commonly to investigate computer networks - such as the internet - and to model what would happen if different parts of the networks were suddenly removed. This type of research, which takes place in Queen Mary's School of Mathematical Sciences, can make computer networks more robust and less susceptible to disruption.

The Netherlands-Spain prediction

The networks reveal Spanish players have made a strikingly high number of passes this tournament, almost 40 per cent more than Germany and twice as many as the Dutch. "The team relies on swift passes that are well distributed among all players, especially between those playing mid-field," said Dr López Peña.

David Villa, the tournament's highest goal scorer, has received an average of 37 passes per game, more than any other forward from all the teams. Dr López Peña said: "Villa's performance has been impressive compared with Fernando Torres, who has not scored any goals this tournament. This was reflected in the successful Spanish tactics, with Torres only receiving an average of 13 passes per match, and 37 to Villa."

Conversely, the Dutch gameplay is clearly offensive, involving a very low number of passes between players, most of which are aimed at the strikers. Dr López Peña said: "The low number of passes shows the Dutch prefer quick attacks and counterstrikes rather than intricate playing. Their goals are often scored from set pieces such as free kicks and they use their physical presence to beat their opponents."

The England-Germany match

The analysis shows the English squad to have a balanced line-up with no single player more important than the team as a whole. Dr López Peña said: "The good midfield work of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Gareth Barry doesn't appear to transfer very well to the forwards, with Wayne Rooney receiving on average three times more passes than Jermain Defoe. This makes the English attack very predictable and easily stoppable by blocking Rooney, who is usually forced to give the ball back to Gerrard."

The German network appears even more balanced than the English one, with a higher number of passes, suggesting more circulation of the ball. "Particularly relevant are the passes between Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger and most of the German attacks are built up from the defenders. Mesut Oezil makes good work connecting both sides of the field on the attack, making the German offensive game very effective and hard to defend against. The key player in the German strategy remains Schweinsteiger, who was effectively blocked by the Spanish midfielders' characteristic fast circulation in their semi-final defeat," said Dr López Peña.

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User comments : 18

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HFlash
5 / 5 (5) Jul 09, 2010
So, the SUCCESSFUL Spanish tactics are demonstrated by the fact that Villa receives about three times as many passes as Torres. The FAILED English tactics are demonstrated by the fact that Rooney receives about three times as many passes as Defoe. Brilliant insight. Here's hoping the "sophisticated new analysis" is a lot better than this article suggests.
SteveL
not rated yet Jul 09, 2010
"and also shows why England were beaten by Germany." Apparently English grammar differs from American English grammar.

Interesting thing about formulas is that you can make them to fit any specific situation. This formula would need significantly more testing to verify its accuracy and usefulness. If it works, or shows sufficient accuracy, it will be banned for gambling purposes. Oh, why compete if you know who is going to win before you even start?
jmegraw
5 / 5 (1) Jul 09, 2010
more accurate than the octopus?
Bob_B
2.1 / 5 (7) Jul 09, 2010
Boring science.
BobSage
1.4 / 5 (9) Jul 09, 2010
"and also shows why England were beaten by Germany." Apparently English grammar differs from American English grammar.

Yes, it is weird. But soccer teams are referred to in the plural.
baudrunner
1.9 / 5 (9) Jul 09, 2010
Passing isn't everything. They could pass all game long and it wouldn't mean a damn thing if they didn't get a shot on goal. For that matter, observing the Dutch play leads one to conclude that they control the game with their ball-handling and their passing, which they also do with uncanny precision. They have not lost in their last 24 international matches. Spain lost 1:0 to Switzerland during group play.

I would say that the only advantage that Spain has over the Netherlands is in the size of their players. They are a large people. That puts them in a different contextual framework of sorts, and this can throw the opposition off. However, Holland has shown themselves to be very capable of beating the other teams at their game.
zevkirsh
not rated yet Jul 09, 2010
magic octopus made the same predictions. it knows more than we can imagine.
p0l4r21
not rated yet Jul 09, 2010
So, the SUCCESSFUL Spanish tactics are demonstrated by the fact that Villa receives about three times as many passes as Torres. The FAILED English tactics are demonstrated by the fact that Rooney receives about three times as many passes as Defoe. Brilliant insight. Here's hoping the "sophisticated new analysis" is a lot better than this article suggests.

The article states that the Spanish pass the ball more than any other team in the tournament. It also states that Germany defeated the English with more passing. Since the English passed the ball so little it was easy to predict the ball going to Rooney where as with the Germans there were more passes making it harder to predict when the ball is going to there lead forward. With the Spanish there are so many passes, granted they pass to Villa the most but all teams pass to one forward more than any other, predicting the Spanish's strike is nearly impossible.
Koen
1 / 5 (8) Jul 09, 2010
Spain is the best team, not only because of the number of offensive passes, but also their speed and control over the ball. But if the Dutch players can shake of their nervousness they can play better and win.

So many factors are involved, no graph calculation can ever realistically predict the winner. May the best team win, viva Espania, leve Holland.
PhysicsLver21
1 / 5 (3) Jul 10, 2010
I would say that the only advantage that Spain has over the Netherlands is in the size of their players. They are a large people. That puts them in a different contextual framework of sorts, and this can throw the opposition off. However, Holland has shown themselves to be very capable of beating the other teams at their game.


actually the game of futbol is based more on possession and passing... you are wrong to say that spain is a "larger" team physically when actually it is the dutch that are larger.. which is one of the main strengths of holland because their forcefulness to get to the ball and their "size".. hard to beat someone when they are physically stronger than you... and because of spains fundamentals and their attacking capabilities of their possession style offense their is no way the dutch are gonna come out of this game as winners... spain all the way
zbarlici
not rated yet Jul 10, 2010
apply these analysis to figure out why some nerds at the bar don`t end up pickin up the chikas, and i`ll bet it`ll be a big $$ maker :) :)
Nederluv
not rated yet Jul 10, 2010
These guys should be fired for wasting valuable tax money. How could such research ever contribute to society? Even if it wasn't utter nonsense. Math nerds seem to make a religion out of maths nowadays... When will these guys ever realise that you can't predict everything with mathmetics! It is the amount of goals that count and not the amount of passes. The Spanish team might play well, but they are extremely slow and have a hard time scoring. The Dutch team plays horribly, but is swift and score easily. With their swift players and high efficiency the Dutch team definitely stand a chance against the Spanish team.
Nederluv
not rated yet Jul 10, 2010
One more thing:
Before the FIFA World Cup mathmeticians from the Swiss bank UBS predicted the final would be Serbia - Brazil.
Maths is so horribly overrated nowadays. You can use it in chemistry or physics, but not in sports or economics.
droid001
not rated yet Jul 11, 2010
Spain wins. Both Pauli and mathematicians was right.
droid001
5 / 5 (1) Jul 11, 2010
Spain wins. Both Pauli and mathematicians were right.
PhysicsLver21
2.3 / 5 (3) Jul 11, 2010
One more thing:
Before the FIFA World Cup mathmeticians from the Swiss bank UBS predicted the final would be Serbia - Brazil.
Maths is so horribly overrated nowadays. You can use it in chemistry or physics, but not in sports or economics.


well your obviously wrong because they used math to determine the winner of the world cup and they predicted correctly... so hence forth math is not overrated and obviously can be used in sports AND economics lol
malapropism
not rated yet Jul 11, 2010
These guys should be fired for wasting valuable tax money. How could such research ever contribute to society?

Well, I'm unsure if you'd call it a contribution to society but I'm pretty certain that some football teams and coaches will sit up and take notice of this maths now - and start using it to improve their team play if they have any sense.

So, let's speculate that the Netherlands team had heard of this research some time ago when it was still just a concept, had decided that it might pay off, had convinced the Netherlands Govt sporting body (whatever it's called) to fund it and had used it to improve their play and win the FIFA World Cup. Do you think they'd consider it a waste of tax money?
Even if it wasn't utter nonsense. Math nerds seem to make a religion out of maths nowadays... When will these guys ever realise that you can't predict everything with mathmetics!

Not such utter nonsense now? It predicted correctly. Perhaps time to eat some humble pie?
Mister_Sinister
not rated yet Jul 12, 2010
Dont forget Mourinho also predicted Spain as the favourite...

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